I feel your pain – literally. As a well experienced, dedicated technology worker active through several decades, I’ve struggled with building and operating even the tiniest business in my domain that didn’t experience multiple serious problems from time to time. And wondered why it was always so bloody hard even though I seemed to have more practical skill and knowledge than most others in my field.
Whether you’re an artisan or craftsperson, a technologist, a creative pro such as a photographer – you may wonder why you see so many businesses that are doing very well run by indifferent owners who don’t appear to care a bit about the craft or the art.
Let’s discuss this issue.
Does the Successful Owner, Marketer or Salesperson who Looks Down on the Craft or Science REALLY get under your skin?
And there are many of them out there. We’re talking about the seemingly less-than-dedicated business owner who doesn’t appear to be personally invested in the subject matter of the business – who nevertheless does quite well financially and business wise.
Admit it. It doesn’t feel fair, is it?
The key to success of the business in part may come from that detachment. This detachment can allow the “disinterested” owner to run the business for best profitability.
Taking cues from the book “The E-Myth Revisited” … about building a real business
The iconic small business startup book The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber discusses how to make the transition from “doer” to “business builder”. In fact, he indirectly addresses this very issue.
It’s not straightforward or easy to move from “doer” to successful business builder, even though he lays it out in a seemingly logical way.
The E-Myth Revisited relates in many ways to that real life disconnect between expertise and rewards.
“Hate” for the Sarah’s Pie Shop case study
Some people I’ve spoken with dislike the concocted example of Sarah’s Pie Shop that runs throughout The E-Myth Revisited as a representation of the self made business person.
In summary – Gerber’s Sarah is an expert amateur baker who then attempts to start a pie shop. She fails to keep the shop running profitably and smoothly.
I read and have conversed with quite a few people who hate the store narrative since they don’t think any of the issues apply to them. Or they find it patronizing and condescending to them personally.
I believe that Michael Gerber created “Sarah” and her self-created business challenges in order to be clear, plain and accessible for many readers.
Why Sarah’s Pie Shop is a spot-on pattern, even for elite experts
Why? Because it’s really difficult to let go of hands-on work that you value and know by heart – and let your system and people do the day to day work.
Those of us who have read and understand The E-Myth Revisited learned exactly what the pie shop narrative is trying to teach (even if the pie shop metaphor seems juvenile or beneath us): the unhappy owner of the poorly performing business who is a subject matter expert at their trade or craft is an extremely common pitfall.
In fact it’s the most likely state of affairs when highly talented, creative, dedicated business owners who love and are dedicated to that subject matter start businesses.
Programmers and developers, website designers, photographers, mechanics, chefs, artisans of various kinds… experts pretty much as smart and hard working as you – all find it very difficult to find a balance between their craft, and the running of the business, when they own a business.
How Does Sarah Change Her Ways in Order to Succeed?
The key phrase used a lot by Gerber, which has become a sort of business meme, is: “work ON your business, not IN your business.”
Working ON your business means thinking and acting like an owner. Working IN your business means working on tasks like an employee – heads down.
Sarah had to be made to clearly see the patterns her business was stuck in, and develop strategies and tactics for correcting those problem areas. Sarah had been so buried in the act of pie-making (her work) that she paid little attention to guiding the entire operation.
So How Do You Get Past “Expert Founder’s Syndrome”?
Your dedication to your work will suck your attention and focus into hands-on work like a vortex. This is pretty much a given.
And you have personal awareness of how the world disproportionately rewards what you may somewhat bitterly call “sales types” and “management types” and “suits”.
It can all sound and feel bleak when you’re dedicated to your work.
Taking a further cue from The E-Myth, here’s some solutions to this problem area. Here’s some specific tactics for dealing with your own perfectionism for your craft.
That means finding a trusted employee or partner or two, who objectively see how your business is doing overall and who gives you honest, to-the-point critique.
To keep you honest, and focused on success.
Ideally such an individual has background in or familiarity with what your business does. Or at least has absolutely stellar common sense (which is NOT common.)
Don’t pick an individual who is obsessed with details or trivia or is self righteously knowledgeable. In other words pick someone who complements you – don’t pick an obsessed, picky expert like yourself.
You really need a “Number One” (A la Star Trek: The Next Generation.) Your Number One should be good at what the business sells – but not absorbed in it as a personal passion. Your “Number One” should be painfully direct about things needing your attention, and not that nice and politic about making you feel good at the moment.
You need to be able to walk away from obsessing over the best source code you can write, or the perfect braise or sear or smoke, or the most perfect woodwork joint – and watch your customers, or deal with accounting, or perform marketing tasks, or train or mentor employees as needed… Whatever is necessary so you can gain understanding and control as the owner.
Since your job should be running the business as the owner, you may have to accept lesser results than what you believe you could produce in the work product of your employees.
You may need to accept good enough for the customer as your criteria for good work results. You, as executive of your business, of course, must determine that sweet spot compromise between “perfect” and “fully acceptable for customers”.
Bonus Takeaway: Here’s A Likely Reason Why You, The Expert Started Your Business In the First Place
You probably felt two things very strongly about your past career working for others, even when their business was doing well:
1) Your unique skills weren’t appreciated very much.
2) You felt much more like a cog than a valuable, integral part of the business.
As an employee, I always felt, with very few exceptions, that my managers and bosses treated my work domain as a child’s sandbox that they allowed me to play in. Even while my “sandbox” was connected directly to revenue creation.
Is that your situation, too?
Well, surprise! You’ve already witnessed the “E-Myth” as an employee! You’ve experienced the sensation of being a commodity that the principles of “The E-Myth” teach.
One thing that shouldn’t conclude is your own dream of a small business!
If you’re struggling – then what your business probably doesn’t need is more of your core talent. Get honest with yourself and crystal clear on that basic fact.
Because if you don’t… you’ll have to find a job again. It’s always demeaning to be the cash cow but be considered a lesser person. It’s also quite common when experts like you have to pack it in and find a job.
Bottom line: get objective and honest with yourself about what your business actually needs: more aggressive marketing and outreach, higher customer service standards, better inventory control… whatever it takes.